British Telecom International – Goonhilly

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Goonhilly Satellite Station

In the high and far off days, oh best beloved, there existed a satellite communication station on a granite peninsula in far off Cornwall.

In the 1960s, the General Post Office owned and ran the satellite station at Goonhilly Downs near Helston on the Lizard peninsula, the UK-end of the new trans-Atlantic telecoms link.

The boffins at the GPO developed ‘Arthur’, the world’s first parabolic satellite communications antenna, weighing in at 1,118 tonnes. In 1962, ‘Arthur’ tracked the first low-orbit telecommunications satellite, ‘Telstar’, across the sky.


With the privatisation of the GPO’s telephone service in 1982 and transference to British Telecom, the organisation became divided into costs centres – and separated into BT and BT International. The BTI division was responsible for running Goonhilly and subsequently 8 other transmission dishes joined ‘Arthur’. The site became a great attraction to visitors to the area – with an educational telecoms exhibition and trips to visit the aerials and wildlife.

Together with other antennas at Goonhilly, 60 years on, ‘Arthur’ is now on a second career. Instead of broadcasting TV signals or transmitting telephone calls, the 26-metre dish has been repurposed for radio astronomy and is now connected to the e-Merlin network via fibre optic cables.

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Goonhilly Satellite Station Operating Desk

In 1983 Roberts Weaver, with Michael Taylor as Principal Designer and Project Manager, were invited to uprate the Operations Control Area (room) to prepare for the many visitors who would be able to view the operations from a glass walled passageway.

The heart of the British Telecom International site at Goonhilly Down, the Control Desk was in use 24-hours a day monitoring global telecom satellite links from the world.

While Michael was at Roberts Weaver, he designed, drew up and constructed a full size model, 4 metres wide out of wood and foamcore board to test out the desks ergonomics.

Michael was then responsible as Project Mananger for overseeing construction and installation of the final desk, undertaken by local Mowlem contractors E.Thomas Ltd of Ponsanooth.

Regular overnight Sleeper Trains from Paddington to Redruth ensured regular day-long Project Management meetings, with return journeys by DeHavilland Dash 7 from Newquay to Heathrow.

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Goonhilly Operations Control Area (OCA)

Not only the Main Operating Desk, but the entire area required refurbishment including refreshing all the old equipment with new finishes and matching work surfaces – background graphics developed by Michael, added the educational element for visitors.

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Goonhilly Desk Model

A full size model desk was created from wood and foamcore board. As the desk was in use 24 hours a day by shifts of operators, the ergonomics had to be designed for optimal viewing of monitor screens and operating keyboards.

Equinox Partners were later asked by BTI Engineers to create and build two more desks for the Control Room – and Nicola, here, is seen demonstrating the desk model made in our workshops.

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